The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that the whole Church is a priestly people. Through baptism, all the faithful share in the priesthood of Christ. This participation is called the “common priesthood of the faithful.” Based on this common priesthood and ordered to its service there exists another participation in the mission of Christ: the ministry conferred by the sacrament of holy orders, where the task is to serve in the name and in the person of Christ the Head in the midst of the whole community. (CCC #1591)
So many priests trace back through their early days and the histories, if you will, of “how they knew God was calling.” When they are asked to reflect about their “vocation stories” at prayer groups, school groups or on other occasions, we may often hear stories that speak of wonderful “hero” priests who were examples of parochial lives. Some speak of priests who would visit the classroom or speak of the Church by telling interesting stories of the lives of the saints. Others remember priests who would teach about the sacraments and help us understand what the Church was basically all about. Most were blessed with the ability to make their ministry in the Church a reality story that went much further than a job or function. Modern history has changed so much of that for us.
“The priesthood is—and we must never forget this—a call, not a career.”
The priesthood is—and we must never forget this—a call, not a career. Seminaries are working very hard to get that point across to men considering responding to God’s call to the priesthood. More than ever, in our divergent and unclear ways of living our Faith, we need to have a clear path to priesthood. Priesthood requires a redefinition of self, not just a new “ministry,” or a new way of life. One must reflect upon the genuine concept of commitment. Commitment of this sort involves knowledge of the One who is calling. In this case, it is the Lord Jesus Himself.
Since Christ is the center and source of the spiritual life for the Christian person, it is essential for one to have contact with Him through the liturgical, sacramental and spiritual life of the Church. For many of us, and especially the younger members of our Church, participation in ordinary practice of our Faith has become much less regular or structured. As we are in this moment, contemplating priesthood as a lifestyle and a means of communicating that source and center of spiritual life, we need to contemplate further the thought of how God continues to call in the midst of basic aridity in the Church and among His people.
Pope Francis gives us additional guidance in this regard. In many ways, as I have already mentioned, the Church has a living memory, and in that memory, we can come to hear God’s voice. But, as in all things concerning our spiritual life and discerning God’s genuine activity and plan for our lives (God does indeed have a plan for our lives) we do have a choice in these matters—free will, remember? Just as there is a plan from God for our lives, we need to listen to God’s voice. Pope Francis teaches us to keep in mind that the voice of Jesus is unique! If we learn how to distinguish it from all the “noise” in the world—He guides us on the path of life. This, we may, and should, remember is the call of God—a vocation. A vocation is a unique call, an invitation from God for our lives and for our relationship with Him in this world.
Christian revelation excludes reincarnation and speaks magnificently of a fulfillment that we are called to achieve in the course of a single earthly existence. Pope St. John Paul the Great, in his apostolic letter On the Coming of the Third Millennium, reminds us that we achieve the fulfillment of our destiny through the sincere gift of self, a gift that is only made possible through our encounter with God. It is through God that we find complete realization; the truth that is revealed by Christ.
We, human beings touched by the grace of God and enabled to live the fulness of the truth, are indeed called by God to authentic relationship with Him. As He calls us, we are invited to respond. This response can be expressed in many ways through that same divine grace. Priesthood, religious life, marriage and single life, all are means of relating to Jesus and sharing His mission in the world.
We fulfill ourselves in God who comes to meet us in this world leading us to the next, through His Eternal Son. The Church leads us through the sacraments and the practical teaching of faithful holy men and women.
“By His incarnation, the Son of God united Himself, in some sense, with every man. He labored with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted with a human will, and loved with a human heart. Born of Mary the Virgin, He truly became one of us and, sin apart, was like us in every way.” (Gaudium et Spes #22)
I, finally and especially, encourage those who hear the call of Jesus and sense a vocation to a deeper, fuller relationship with Him to say, “Yes.” Follow Him. Reveal Him in this world, in the mission of His Church. Offer the gift of yourself for service in the Church as the clear and unique voice of God speaks your name.
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan,
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse
Published in the Sept./Oct. 2022 issue of Catholic Life Magazine